Published in NEHRA News (9/17/2020)
On August 27, 2020, New Hampshire updated both the Universal Guidelines for All New Hampshire Employers and Employees and the New Hampshire COVID-19 General Travel and Quarantine Guidance, & Employer Screening and Exclusion Criteria. These documents apply to “all businesses, organizations, and individual business operators for the operation of their business” and must be complied with together with any applicable industry-specific guidelines.
The Universal Guidelines serve as “the basic minimum standard that businesses must adhere to in order to maintain or begin operations.” Updates to the Universal Guidelines include a “Definitions” section and a “Chart” on page 4 which identifies when employees or volunteers must self-quarantine or isolate. The Chart serves as a guide as employers must prohibit from workplaces or activity areas all employees or volunteers who have any new symptoms of COVID-19, are diagnosed with COVID-19, have had close contact exposure to someone confirmed with COVID-19, or have had travel risk exposure (more detail below).
The updated Universal Guidelines again explain that other guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and NH Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) must be reviewed, monitored, and followed along with any applicable federal or state regulatory requirements. A link to sample communications from the CDC website is included. While citing these other government regulatory entities, it is now clear that the Universal Guidelines control. “To the extent any of the above guidance conflicts with provisions of the Universal Guidelines, then the applicable provisions of the Universal Guidelines shall control.”
The Universal Guidelines link to the DHHS’s guidance on travel and quarantine, which was updated on the same date. Both documents change the screening questions businesses must ask related to travel outside of the New England states for non-essential purposes before allowing someone into the workplace. Those who answer “yes” to the travel screening question will need to self-quarantine for 14 days and additionally get tested if experiencing new or unexplained symptoms. Specifically, the screening question under the Universal Guidelines reads:
“Have you traveled on non-essential travel in the past 14 days outside of New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, or Rhode Island (this includes any international travel or travel by cruise ship and any domestic travel, within the US, outside of NH, VT, RI, CT, MA or ME, regardless of the mode of transportation)?”
“Essential Travel” is defined to “include personal safety, medical care, care of others, parental shared custody, for food, beverage or medication or for work. Employees who travel outside of the New England states for personal or leisure reasons cannot rely on this exemption.” The DHHS guidance further details the limited “Exceptions to Quarantine Requirements” for those critical infrastructure employees who may have had close contact to someone suspected or confirmed with COVID-19 or traveled outside New England for non-essential purposes. Nine criteria are listed and all nine must be met for the exemption. The guidance cautions that the exceptions are not recommended and should not be standard practice.
The Universal Guidelines now identify 10 industries that have additional guidance to follow under an Addendum A. Except as noted in the Addendum and Universal Guidelines, the following industries may “resume normal operations” in NH:
- Community Arts & Music Education
- Drive-In Movie Theatres
- Driver’s Education
- Funeral Homes
- Equestrian Facilities
- Golf Courses
- Museums & Art Galleries
- Outdoor Attractions (no amusement parks)
- State Parks
Separate guidance for other industries can still be found on Governor Sununu’s Safer at Home page.
Some additional changes to the Universal Guidelines include: monitoring, cleaning and disinfecting restrooms; identifying someone as a “Safety Officer” to monitor and improve compliance with social distancing, face covering use, hand hygiene, and other protective policies; and training of employees and volunteers on the Universal Guidelines, industry-specific guidance, and other applicable guidance.
All businesses, organizations, and individual business operators must review these updates carefully to ensure that their policies and practices are in compliance with these mandates and train employees and volunteers accordingly. They should also communicate frequently with employees, volunteers, and customers about the steps being taken to lessen the spread of the virus. As we know, this guidance is subject to change as more information is learned about this virus and employers should be consistently reviewing federal and state websites for the release of updates.
Jennifer Parent is a director at McLane Middleton. She is Chair of the firm’s Litigation Department and a member of the Employment Law Practice Group. Jennifer can be reached at (603) 628-1360 or [email protected].